YAKIMA, Wash. — As a cousin to marijuana, hemp has long been banned despite a huge potential for use in a wide range of products, including clothing, building materials and even shampoo.
But Yakima will soon be at the forefront of the state’s efforts to develop a research program that could lead to a commercial hemp industry.
The state Department of Agriculture plans to hire a Yakima-based program specialist to help draft and adopt rules needed to create the program, which is expected to launch in time for the 2017 growing season.
“I think that’s pretty exciting. Being able to develop a program doesn’t come along every day,” said Jason Ferrante, Agriculture’s assistant director for commodity inspection.
Recent changes in federal law — in spite of the federal government’s long-standing resistance to legalizing marijuana and hemp — allow states to develop research programs around the viability of commercial hemp production.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers gave the go-ahead for such a program to go into effect June 28, but Ferrante said the Agriculture Department wanted to jump-start the process by advertising the job ahead of time.
Officials say the position is a natural fit for Yakima because the state’s seed inspection program is already based here. Located at 21 N. First Ave., the program employs up to 20 people during the peak of the growing season and tests a wide variety of seeds so growers and seed companies can comply with certification and labeling requirements.
Unlike legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington, the efforts around hemp have been less noticed.
“It seems like cannabis has gotten all the news,” Ferrante said.
While related to marijuana, hemp has a low amount of the psychoactive ingredient, THC, that gives marijuana its high. But because of its relation to cannabis, a 1970 federal law made it illegal to grow hemp in the U.S. without a permit.
Some states, including Oregon, allow permitted hemp crops, but keep it tightly regulated. Elsewhere, dozens of other countries allow hemp cultivation.